Dream Jobs: Director of Product Testing

When you’re standing at the top of a steep, rowdy line, chances are, you’re not thinking about if your skis can handle what you’ll throw their way. Bruce Jahnke, Director of Product Testing at K2, has already done that for you. He stepped out of the lab to tell us how your skis are tested.
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I have a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wyoming. Prior to joining K2, I worked at Boeing as an engineer in their commercial airplane division.

We test our skis, boots, poles, helmets, and snowshoes in the Cold Temperature Environmental Test Chamber. It’s basically a big refrigerator set to -4 degrees Fahrenheit, where we perform stress tests and cyclic tests on these products. 

The engineers who are part of K2’s Product Test department wear insulated coveralls, mittens and boots—the same insulated clothes you see the mushers wear on the Iditarod. We have developed a system so engineers can get in and do their job quickly and get out; usually no more than 10-15 minutes. But the current record is three hours without a break.

Our current Cold Temperature Chamber has been around for 15 years, and before that, we had a much smaller version that aimed to accomplish the same thing.

The point of the lab is to test products in as close to real-world conditions as possible. Stress testing involves generating forces and torques that match the loads a skier would apply while sliding down the hill. Some tests are dynamic, where we subject the product to impact at high rates of speed. Other tests are cyclic tests, which put the product through hundreds of thousands of repeated movements. These types of tests let us evaluate how our products will perform over many years— and we can accomplish it in just a few days.

Stress testing, or testing to failure, is just one of the tests we use. Characterizations tests evaluate stiffness and torsional rigidity, and we also measure how UV radiation will affect the look and performance of our products.

We don’t just test the finished product—we also test the materials that make up the skis: the wood core, steel edge, and polyethylene base. And of course, K2 engineers are on snow 10-12 months of the year perfecting their designs.

If you want to get into product testing, I recommend obtaining an engineering degree. Then, get some practical experience working in a laboratory. Combining your technical degree with good hands-on skills, plus a passion for the sport, should prepare you for a position as a product test engineer.

Don't want to work in a freezer? Check out the rest of ourDream Jobs series.


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